Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, August 20 and 21, 1976. Interview A-0328-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Past experience aids Sanford's response to Duke student protests

As college president, Sanford handled the Duke student protests well in the 1960s by drawing on his experience working with civil rights demonstrators. Sanford maintained contact with students, and he shared their disapproval of the war.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, August 20 and 21, 1976. Interview A-0328-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

It was deliberate that I didn't come on duty April 1.
BRENT GLASS:
Why?
TERRY SANFORD:
It was April Fool's Day. (laughter)
BRENT GLASS:
Are you superstitious?
TERRY SANFORD:
No, but I thought that was sort of fun, not to come to work on April Fool's Day. But I went on the payroll April 2. During that other period, when I was actually president, I wasn't being paid. Then of course, immediately within a month came Cambodia and Kent State, but I was ready for it. I knew what I was going to do under such circumstances. I did it and it worked.
BRENT GLASS:
What made you ready for it? You suspected something like this? You had seen it on other campuses?
TERRY SANFORD:
First of all, I liked students. I wasn't afraid of students. I understood crowds and mobs and demonstrations from having been governor at the very toughest period of demonstrations and I knew the way to handle the students was to be one of them and that's the way we handled it. We got away from this remoteness that most college presidents had followed and the barricades that they gave their commands from behind. We simply moved among the students and that gave us the rapport that was necessary. It was tense, of course. But we didn't close down as some did, didn't miss a class to my knowledge, unless some professor decided that he didn't want to go. But it worked out very well and was extremely fortunate, as it turned out, for me because within six weeks of coming here I had totally established myself as being absolutely in charge of everything. It helped me with alumni, trustees, students and the faculty. Because it turned out, obviously, there was some luck in it, but it turned out very, very well.
BRENT GLASS:
Did you think of the parallels ten years earlier with the civil rights . . .
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, of course. And I knew then that I need not be afraid of those people. I knew then that I could walk into those demonstrations and I wasn't . . . certainly, with the hostility that you would have expected from young blacks and demonstrators of that kind. Compare that with the hostility of students, it's bound to have been far greater. So, I wasn't the least bit afraid of students. You wouldn't remember this, but when all the black students and demonstrators in North Carolina descended on the mansion, they were demonstrating against the system, not against me. When I went out there and moved among them, I knew that I had them, because I knew what I had been doing was right and they did, too. So, I knew very well here that I wouldn't have any problem if we just treated them as people with a damn good complaint against society and against the university. I told them, "I have been against the war longer than you have and can prove it. I was one of the few public figures to never be for the war." Even McGovern was for the war briefly.